Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Grit, Don't Quit

(Author's Introduction: Last time I blogged about grit, I reviewed Angela Duckworth's FEI talk about the relationship between grit and success.  This post will discuss building a culture of grit and an orientation toward success.)

Given the role that grit appears to play in fostering success, it is no wonder that many people want to know how to incorporate it into their companies.  Perhaps the first two places to look for a culture of grit are Finland and Israel.  In Finland, the concept of "sisu" is sometimes considered a defining characteristic of the nation, much as the concept of "sabra" reflects the grit of Israelis[1].  What can flourish at a national level can also apply firm-wide, and a review of Duckworth's comments and research can lead to a number of helpful suggestions for how to bring grit into the business world.

Probably the most important part of promoting grit in the workplace is fostering the ability to deal with discomfort.  Whether managing smart cookies, dealing with failure[2], or handling constructive criticism, there are a host of unpleasant moments through which we must suffer if we are to succeed. Unfortunately, negative events tend to be more salient[3], so we must work all the harder to overcome the day-to-day challenges that we face.  But, the first step is understanding where negativity enters in the job, and how to combat it.  In her talk, Duckworth pointed out that two major sources of difficulty are a lack of immediate pleasure and a pessimistic/fixed mindset.

The lack of immediate pleasure is going to be a problem anywhere, because life just doesn't provide one round of pleasure after another (and we would hate if it did!).  If we dig into the immediacy issue a bit further, what we find is that we want to know whether we are going in the right direction.  Even if we are suffering through our work in the moment, if we feel that we are making progress[4], or if we are getting some indication that we are moving in the right direction[5], we can endure.  Managers need to take note here, because they are the coordinators.

To help employees maintain the grit to persevere through challenges, managers need to provide clear goals and provide feedback that indicates whether the work is going in the right direction and whether people are actually making progress.  Building on research by Duckworth and her colleagues[6], managers can help employees to specify a goal, delineate the benefit(s) of achieving the goal, define the obstacles that stand in the way of the goal, and provide a where, when, and specific action verb for getting around the obstacle(s).[7]

While it is tempting to blame a lot on pessimism, and to avoid pessimists at all costs, one must keep in mind that pessimists play an important role in the workplace[8], and that pessimism is not a bad thing, per se.

The problem occurs primarily when pessimism is crossed with what Carol Dweck calls a "fixed mindset"[9], the combination of which essentially implies that people do not think they can succeed, even if they try.  This is where people need to follow Atul Gawande's advice of "get a coach" who can provide support, feedback, and assistance with finding the wherewithal to persevere and succeed[10], and managers can surely take on that role.  One important way to enable people to feel comfortable trying is to focus on strengths -- figure out what people do well, and have them do it.  While that sounds simple enough, I have encountered a prodigious number of managers that never bothered to ascertain their employees' strengths, likes, and capabilities (some advice for the curious manager).  Just by focusing on what people do well, and giving them tasks that fit those strengths, managers can help create a path to "done."

There will always be challenges and abundant obstacles to success in every walk of life.  But, fostering grit in the workplace is eminently doable, and the research (see the asides below) is slowly building to show the many ways that we can persevere through the discomforts we face.  That said, it takes the power of multiple people working in concert to build grit at the individual, cultural, and national levels, but the potential benefits are well worth it.[11]

Orin's Asides

1) I was inclined to include the Gandhian construct of Satyagraha, as well, but it seems to go beyond grit and the context in which it is generally used is a bit too specific.
2) Stay tuned for a future post on this topic.
3) See Baumeister et al.'s famous paper and Bob Sutton's blog post on this.
4) For details on this, read Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer's book, The Progress Principle.
5) This is a major part of optimal experience, a.k.a flow.  We need clear goals and immediate feedback to help us get into "the zone," but the flipside also applies.  We tend to flounder when we have no idea what we are supposed to do, and likewise when we know what we are supposed to do but are fumbling around in the dark with no idea of how to get there.  Both situations lead to significant stress, especially in the workplace.
6) Which is largely based on the research by Peter Gollwitzer and Gabrielle Oettingen. Here are some examples (and here's a good summary).
7) Duckworth noted, and I wholeheartedly agree, that this line of thought is invoked far less frequently than it should.
8) For one thing, pessimists tend to be more realistic, and they can be the very-necessary bucket of cold water on unrealistic positivity.
9) There is a lot of great information to be found on Dweck's website:
10) This is different from getting a mentor, whose primary role is personal and professional development.  That's not to say that mentors do not play the role of coach at times, but rather that coaching is not a mentor's primary role.  (Some good books on this by Kram and Nakamura et al.)
11) For even more on grit, see Duckworth's two TED Talks.

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Failure - Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret

When is the last time you took pride in an innovation "failure"?

Properly managed, failure can drive you forward, creating new learning and increasing the value of opportunity. Find out how at BEI: Back End of Innovation this November during the full day "Fail Forward" collaborative workshop. Team up with experts from HP, Aemetis, SmartOrg , K+S Ranch Consulting as they share lessons learned from their own failures and successes. 

Download the brochure here:

Workshop Spotlight: Failing Forward - The Key to Success!

Bring your biggest innovation challenges and exchange ideas with thought leaders and peers from companies that have successfully met challenges just like yours. During this highly interactive workshop, you will learn how to create value by failing:

  • Create inexpensive experiments that produce results
  • Create an environment where failure equals progress
  • Pivot through failure and move forward
  • Make uncertainty work for you

Execution takes time. Just taking initiative alone will not get innovation to work. BEI makes innovation happen. Join us in November as we put innovation to work in real-time, for real results. 

Mention code BEI13LINK & Save 15% off the standard rate. Register today:

BEI: Back End of Innovation
November 18-20, 2013
Hyatt Regency
Santa Clara, CA

See you in November,

The BEI Team

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Almost there. Game theory in action for the fight for ideas.

One way to get people to contribute ideas to your challenge is to let everyone know you almost have the number of ideas you are shooting for.

A key part of a successful collaborative innovation strategy is to make certain you communicate the team’s successes.  It is a terrific way to let everyone know their efforts are being rewarded.  Armed with this knowledge those who collaborate gain enthusiasm for continuing to provide contributions.

Game theory plays a considerable role in the collaborative ideation process.  Sometimes it’s about pitting one team against another.  Sometimes audiences are “engaged” with the notion of a “point scheme” whereby each member gets a basket of points for a challenge, allowed then to assign up to a certain number of those points to any given idea.  This gets contributors thinking; it gets their wheels turning; they’re interactively engaged, enthused and participating.

So although it may seem like a small thing...
...showing off or reporting the progress the team is making (toward the number of ideas you’ve set as your goal) will spur additional ideas and participation.

You know that big poster of a thermometer on the village square that notes the progress of the fund raising project?  Well it seems that works.  

People are more likely to contribute when the goals are close to being reached.
This means I should give you two pieces of advice when launching your idea challenge... 
          1.      Shoot for an attainable target number of ideas
          2.     Raise the goal as the challenge progresses

Celebrate Quick Wins
Celebrating victories, accomplishments and milestones in the Innovation process is an important step in demonstrating a senior level company endorsement of Innovation for two reasons:

  •         It keeps the employees’ spirit and energy high, and turns more people into Innovation “believers”
  •         It showcases the management’s commitment to making Innovation an integral part of the way the company operates

Always have in place a few short-term and a few long-term goals and then track the team’s progress toward achieving them. When a goal is accomplished, make it a point to praise the team.

By stopping to celebrate progress, to recognize individual accomplishments and reflect on the work completed thus far, it is also possible to evaluate the overall Innovation effort and course correct, if necessary.

You can communicate the progress of the challenge; the number of ideas “achieved” so far by posting a progress chart on the innovation portal dashboard, by sending out a daily, weekly, monthly newsletter or by sending an email directly noting the progress everyone has made to date.

In conclusion
Set a goal of an attainable number of ideas for a challenge.  Raise the goal number of ideas as the challenge progresses.  Communicate the progress of the challenge to the contributor community.

Cryder, C. et al., “Goal Gradient in Helping Behavior,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).
Ron Shulkin blogs, researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management.  You can learn more about Ron at his biography web You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group.  You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.   

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem. CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation. CogniStreamer has been rated as a “Leader” in Forrester’s recent Wave report on Innovation Management Tools. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here . Ron also manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (JoinHere).

Opportunity begins by defining the borders

Exclusive First Read Every week through October 2013, we will post a short excerpt from our Summer Innovation Book Club Pick: Killing Ideas - You can kill an idea, you can't kill an opportunity By NewEdge CEO, Dr. Pam Henderson

Mapping the opportunity landscape is a lot like doing a puzzle. Most of us have put together a puzzle or two in  our lifetime. 

We start by deciding just how ambitious we want to be: 2,000; 1,000; 500; or 100 pieces? We also pick the puzzle by the picture on the box cover—a landscape or image we are drawn to. Next we open the box to an unwieldy jumble of pieces and start making sense of the mess. 

But where do we start? With the edge pieces, of course!

...Framing how we view opportunities is critical for decisions about effort and investment. Accurately describing the landscape, the territories, and the regions within is critical for us staying focused on what is in and what is out from a strategic standpoint. 

Understanding the borders correctly and being able to communicate them to our organization, understanding the shape of the shorelines, and accurately showing where opportunity lies, aids deciding what and how we will pursue it. - Killing Ideas, Ch 5, Big Landscape

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What map will persuade our organizations to journey to new lands?

Exclusive First Read. Every week through October 2013, we will post a short excerpt from our Summer Innovation Book Club Pick: Killing Ideas - You can kill an idea, you can't kill an opportunity By NewEdge CEO, Dr. Pam Henderson

Cartographers use latitude, longitude, and altitude to map lands and oceans. These dimensions helped explorers see where they were, where they could go, and where not to go.

Our opportunity landscapes also have dimensions that help us pinpoint our current position and plot unknown areas.

The dimensions of the landscape are our second Opportunity Finder. They start within each of the Six Sources. 

Business models range from bargain to premium, markets from young to old, resources from abundant to scarce, brands from big to small, technologies from high to low, and organizations from insourcing to outsourcing. 

Within each of the Sources there is a plethora of dimensions.- Killing Ideas, Ch 4, Big Dimensions

- See our Summer Innovation Book Club Pick: Killing ideas. Participate in the Author Q&A today here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Voices From Last Year: What Do You Look for in an Innovator?

We will be featuring a series entitled, “Voices From Last Year” to highlight key themes that BEI Back End of Innovation attendees took away from last year’s event.

BEI is all about the strategy and execution of innovation. It’s a conference where the entire innovation process comes to life- from leadership & organizational structure, to optimizing the idea portfolio, to process and strategy, to commercializing new ideas, ultimately driving bottom line profitability.

At BEI 2012 Dr. Hitendra Patel, Innovation Professor, Hult Founder, IXL-Center, discussed what it takes to be a successful innovator. 

Do you agree with Dr. Patel? What do you think are the key characteristics of a successful innovator? Share your thoughts with us!

Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist at IIR USA in New York City, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the tech industry.  She can be reached at Follow her at @AmandaCicc. 
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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Top 5 Idea Enrichment Issues

Idea Enrichment is a must have step for Disruptive Innovation

Or another title might be…Everybody is a critic…Looking closely at winning ideas

The review of ideas is an important step in the ideation process.  Crowdsourcing a topic will yield lots of contributions.  You’ll end up with a ranked list of ideas. But are they of any value?  The trick is to take the very best or winning ideas and THEN look very critically to see if they’ll fly.

First off, there are certain ideas that don’t need enrichment

Incremental ideas typically don’t require too much enrichment.  Either they're a good idea or they’re not.  Either they make or save money .  Or perhaps they save time.  Not much analysis required.

On the other hand...Organizations must enrich Disruptive Innovations
When you challenge your crowdsourcing audience to give you ideas (ask for ideas on a specific subject or to solve a particular problem), you have a fighting chance of receiving ideas on a topic you’re interested in.  If you’re lucky you’ll get what’s called Disruptive or Breakthrough Ideas. 

These ideas change everything….


…As a result a company might get into a whole new business, retool production lines, assemble whole new teams and marketing plans to get a new product launched.

The problem then is, before we spend money on this new idea, let’s give it a very critical once over. 

  1. How do we examine good ideas? 
  2. To what aspects of the ideation process should we be assessing?
  3. What methods should we use to ensure these good ideas are a safe bet?

Three years ago I examined the subject of “how we look at ideas”.  I pointed out how De Bono calls this aspect of ideation the Blue Hat in his Six Hats methodology of looking at ideas.  You can read the entry here

Think about WHO we invite to do the critiquing.  And what to expect from their efforts.

Stay away from experts who are physically close or friendly with the ideators.  People who are friendly with the ideators (or who work closely with; down the hall from, etc.) are going to be favorably biased.  Close proximity creates rapport.  They may profess to remain unbiased but let’s face it, you’re going to vote for your buddy.  When you select experts your best bet is to choose amongst professionals who are unaffiliated.

Expect expert reviewers to bias their decisions in favor of more senior contributors.  There’s an innate sense we all feel that senior people are more competent.  We value their contributions more because of the source.   

When it counts, experts will turn up requirements.  When the topic is really important to the organization, expect reviewers to have more stringent criteria than less critical notions.  When the weight of their decisions carry significant ramifications, reviewers will look very carefully and use higher standards for success.

Competitive Processes
It’s a great idea to assign each of the top two or three ideas to separate groups of experts.  Let them vet these notions using a system to score the ideas.  A SWOT analysis is a perfect mechanism to provide a common scheme for comparison.  When done, let each team compete to advocate the idea they enriched.

Final Reviews
In the real world, when the very best idea has been agreed upon and enriched,  a due diligence step helps make turning the idea into a project a safer bet.  An organization should look at a winning idea using the perspectives they use for every new project.  These perspectives should be unique to the organization.

Some examples of these points of view might be…

  • What is the feasibility of this idea?
  • What is the strategic fit of this idea in comparison with the rest of our product line?
  • What competitive advantage does this idea offer to us?
  • Is this idea cost effective?

If you look within your own company you’ll know what the avenues for assessment are best for your company and industry.

I also answered the enrichment question on Quora with a deep dive examination of the SWOT process and a Final Review or feasibility study.  You can read the entry here

 So insist on an enrichment phase as part of the ideation process.  Assemble unaffiliated, cross disciplined groups of experts to review the best ideas.  Arrange a competitive environment for review teams.  Use our own industry's or company's unique important requirements to assess whether a winning idea is "project ready".

Mills, B., “Social Pressure at the Plate: Inequality Aversion, Status, and Mere Exposure,” Managerial and Decision Economics (forthcoming).
Ron Shulkin blogs researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management.  You can learn more about Ron at his biography web You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group.  You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.  

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem. CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here . Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (JoinHere).

Front End of Innovation 2013 Recap: Harness the Power of the Collective

(Author's Introduction: Two months ago, the FEI conference was replete with on-the-ground advice and information about how to build an innovative company and an innovative world (my twelve posts on those insights).  I offer here an integration of the enduring wisdom provided by academic and business thinkers alike: Harness the power of the collective.)

No One is an Island

As Keith Sawyer pointed out, one of the biggest myths of creativity and innovation is the lone genius.  Even efforts for Jugaad Innovation, which has a minimalist attitude when it comes to resources, are nearly all multi-person endeavors.  While innovation blitzes require personal recognition for each participant, it is important to recognize that these participants have their ideas evaluated and refined through interactions with others and are given the freedom and resources to innovate by a company that is on-board with the innovation efforts.  Likewise, planning for the future requires the joint insights of both innovators and consumers.

Group Genius

There is, however, a difference between multiple people handling an idea before it is fully formed and executed, and a group generating an idea together.  At first blush, they seem to be the same process in different contexts and time frames, with ideas generated in a group being iterated more quickly and all of the diversity of viewpoints coming in at once instead of the process going through several departments.  There is, however, a synergy of group genius that goes beyond the additive effects of diversity and multiple-handling.  In their House of Guilds game, Seek Research showed how groups can harness collective wisdom to solve problems through deep, empathy-based comprehension.  Similarly, the Nexus Sprint events at Philadelphia University showed how synergy and mentorship can turn a team of university students into innovators who are partnering with major companies to solve problems of global import.

Innovative Culture

But, in order to have departments and teams that can work together on innovation, it is imperative to have a culture that fosters creativity and passion.  One way to do this is do create an innovation club, in which people can get together for events like Flux Sessions, but these need to be nurtured and protected by rules of engagement.  Having company-wide policies like Google's famed 20% time is a good thing, but management must, at minimum, be able to step back and allow it.  Optimally, management can jump right in and create a full support structure for an innovative culture (both Colin Nelson and Keith Sawyer gave advice on how to do this).  And, when a company has an innovative culture, it is more likely to have the spontaneous synergy that comes from many interactions between people who are primed for passion and creativity.

Innovative Attitudes

Indeed, passion and creativity are two of the key attributes that need to pervade a company so that it can, as a whole, be innovative.  A third one is grit.  As Angela Duckworth pointed out, successful people and successful companies need to be able to foster and harness zeal, effort, and a willingness to strive in the face of adversity in the long-term.  For any entity, be it a company, a department, or an individual, maintaining all three attributes, and the attitudes they connote, require the joint efforts of a great many people.

One of the primary keys to innovation, however, was voiced by improv consultant Michelle James:

Give someone an offer, and accept his/hers, even if it is disruptive.  Receive whatever is shared with you as a gift, and add something to it.

With this key, grit, passion, creativity, and the foundation to build a synergistic group, almost any company can harness the power of the collective.

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

Opportunity insights more than just market insights

Executives at the Kellogg cereal and snack company felt they had learned all they could about school snacks from their market research with mothers and children. … The answer was in the ecosystem. 

It wasn’t from opinion leaders though; it was from janitors in the school lunch rooms. They knew everything that was eaten, thrown away, thrown in food fights, and traded on the cafeteria black market.

People can only tell us so much. 

They often struggle to tell us things they want because they can’t fully imagine anything different than what they have today. These are the needs and wants unleashed by great invention. Opportunity insights require that we go beyond what people can tell us to learn what hasn’t been articulated.

Consumers are influenced by others around them who may not directly have any stake in our brands or products. 

These influencers span the kaleidoscope of communities across the opportunity ecosystem. They often know and can describe attitudes and behaviors better than consumers themselves.  - Killing Ideas, Ch 4, Big Insights

- See our Summer Innovation Book Club Pick: Killing ideas. Participate in the Author Q&A on Wednesday here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Innovation Field Trip! You + Intuit

See Intuit For Real at Back End of Innovation, Nov 19, 2013 

It’s all too rare that we get to go behind the scenes, witness and experience what makes a company that is SYNONYMOUS with innovation tick, especially one that has been doing it continuously for thirty years.  As a strategic partner to the BackEnd of Innovation (BEI) conference, we are happy to be giving the IX community early notice that BEI is including on-site experiential learning in the form of (#BEI13) Field Trips to three innovation powerhouses (Intuit, Xerox Parc andPayPal.) The first, Intuit, will be held on November 19, on Intuit’s corporate campus in Santa Clara, and led by Suzanne Pellican, who has one of the better titles I’ve seen of late – Director, Design for Delight and Innovation Catalysts.

In Their Own Words…

Intuit on Innovation: “Innovation at Intuit is systematic. Yet we afford our employees the autonomy to tap into their own passions to delight customers and grow the company. Innovation at Intuit is the intersection of customer, technology and business insights. We encourage our employees to know our customers – watch them, listen to them, visit their homes and workplaces – so they can discover and solve important customer problems.”

10% of Employee Time for Exploration/Experimentation
“Our secret sauce for innovation is Design for Delight (D4D), our way of looking at design thinking. We also nurture our employees to be innovators through a grassroots environment that taps into their passions and lets them spend 10% of their time exploring and experimenting on their ideas. We call this Unstructured Time.”

Applicability to Your Organization and Business
Can you say that about your business with a straight face? It sounds simple and straightforward. But as we all know, implementing it is something else entirely. And that’s why we’re heading to Intuit – to see, feel and experience an environment that’s fully committed to implementing ideas and creating a persistent innovation culture.

A Little Background
For 30 years Intuit has been simplifying the way people manage money, a rather profound ‘job to be done.’  Products like Quicken, TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint get those jobs done for people at home and at work.   All of these software products are developed by Intuit Labs, which has a point of view about how to fuel and innovation pipeline.

They started small in 1983 with Quicken personal finance software, simplifying a common household dilemma: balancing the family checkbook. Today, they’ve served the lives of more than 50 million people, and have annual revenue approaching $4 billion. They’re publicly traded with the symbol INTU on theNasdaq Stock Market, and regularly recognized as one of the best places to work in locations around the world.

The BEI13 Field Trips are about making Intuit’s innovation style visible.
Intuit is one of the companies innovators admire and want to work for because of their track record, their longevity, and especially their people. Let’s go see them, talk to them, breath their air. Seeing is believing in any realm. In Innovation it’s especially true. Because the kind of synthesis of leadership, courage, resources, vision, and practice that it takes to grow to 4Billion in revenues does not happened by accident. The kind of people coming to the Back End of Innovation work at Innovation for a living. They KNOW it’s HARD.  Rewarding to be sure, but hard. Intuit believes in the power of the individual and puts teeth into the belief.  Beyond the words, implemented in action.  Now that’s a job to be done!

Come Join Us at Intuit on November 19 at BEI
To learn more visit To register call: 888.670.8200 or Email: And don’t forget to get your 15% Discount off the standard price, using the code BEI13BLOG. Register here: 

About the Author: Julie Anixter is Principal at Think Remarkable, Chief Innovation Officer at Maga Design, and Co-founder of Innovation Excellence. She is also the curator of the remarkable, business builder, innovator, facilitator or change, and executive editor at 

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